Kentucky Lawmakers U.S. Senate Leadership CSPAN May 4, 2018 3:01am-4:09am EDT
good afternoon. my name is kent wentworth and it's my pleasure to serve the kentucky historical society. on behalf of the historical society, we welcome you to the old state capitol for senator mcconnell's lecture entitled, kentucky lawmakers and the evolution of the united states senate leadership. senator mcconnell, the kentucky historical society is honored to host your final lecture in this history series. and we are especially gratified that you chose this treasured place, the old state capitol, as the venue. constructed in 1830, this national historic landmark served as the seat of our state government for 80 years. just six years after the old state capitol opened, on a brisk, january day, a group of patriotically inclined citizens
gathered in this very building to establish the kentucky historical society. they wanted to ensure the kentucky's early settlement story was preserved for the future. at khs, we'd often say that history has far more to do with the future than it does the past. i tell you this story because there's a strong connection between the kentucky historical society and the united states senate. from day one as former senator from kentucky john brown was elected, the kentucky historical society's first president. to further illustrate this connection, you should know that khs selected as its second president senator john rowland. today it's my privilege to introduce another history- minded united states senator from kentucky, the honorable mitch mcconnell. he served as the united states
senate majority leader. he's only the second kentuckyen to hold this post. first elected in 1984, leader mcconnell is also kentucky's longest serving state senator. i have to believe, senator, that your keen interest in history and its relevance has been a key to your ability to work over the years with numerous administrations representing a range of political perspectives. i would like to touch on one final connection between the kentucky historical society and senator mcconnell. and that is our shared commitment to history, to civics education, and to the future. at khs, we are focused on educating and engaging the public through kentucky history in order to confront the challenges of the future. senator mcconnell's educational focus is on civic engagement through such programs such as the mcconnell scholars and
mcconnell center at the university of louisville. the goal of these stellar programs is to identify, recruit, and nurture kentucky's future leaders. please join me in welcoming kentucky senior senator, the honorable mitch mcconnell. [applause] well, thank you, kent. it's wonderful to be here and to see all of you. i appreciate very much the kind introduction. the united states senate is an endlessly interesting place. it was in the beginning.
and it remains so even today. for those who are interested in quick results, it's an endless frustration. some of you may remember that washington, who presided over the constitutional convention, was according to legend asked what do you think the senate will be like? he said, i think it's going to be like the saucer under the teacup. the tea will slosh out of the cup into the saucer and cool off. zx(xroóñ remember how revolutionary the notion of electing people who would actually govern you was in 1787. nobody else had tried that before. they were a little apprehensive about the house, elected every two years. popularly elected. they may try to do crazy things, right? so the senate was designed to be the brakes. and so i often think if
washington could look down and look at c-span 2, he wouldn't be disappointed. the pace is somewhere between slow and slower. that's the place where things go to slow down, get thought over, or on many occasions, not to be done at all. so it's been my great honor to be in the senate for a number of years now and to have an opportunity to be there when my side was up and when my side was down. but being a minority in the senate is not a hopeless situation because of the nature of the body. washington, i think indeed would be proud of the branch of the congress that was set up to slow things down or maybe not
pass things at all. in this building, kentuckians heard the auditory of henry clay just outside governor goble was struck by an assassin's bullet. these and countless other historical moments in the history of our commonwealth make this a perfect setting for this afternoon's event. clifford barryman, a native of clifton, kentucky, in boyle county, by the way, is one of the most famous political cartoonists in american history. his 1902 depiction of theodore roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear cub became so popular that the cartoon image ultimately spawned the teddy bear which was named in honor of our 26th president.
barrybarryman brings together the two central actors in today's speech: kentucky senator blackburn depicted here on my left. how do you like that mustache? and alvin barclay. over my shoulder, as i just said over to the side, is senator blackburn who was quite a character in his day. this was painted by the artist nicholas brewer. in 1939, barryman decided to donate portrait of blackburn to the kentucky historical society. but before the portrait was conveyed, barryman gave a preview of the artwork to a senator who had admired senator blackburn during his youth. that senator was alvin barclay.
given this connection, there couldn't be anything more appropriate organization to host this event to talk about the career offense these two men. this afternoon's speech will conclude a series of talks i have undertaken about past prominent u.s. senators from our state. our commonwealth has been blessed with rich history and has contributed much to the nation's development. so i'd like to talk about the evolution of senate leadership and kentucky's role in that development, particularlily as it involve -- particularly as it involves senators blackburn and barkley. as part of this effort, i'd like to thank gerald gam, steven smith, betty coed, walter olesik, richards beth,
tom cleber and gary craig, all of whom have contributed to this series of speeches i've made over the last few years. kentucky has long -- it could be argued -- above its weight in the white house senate. aside from having a small population, kentucky has produced its greatest lawmaker henry clay, one of only five state that is can claim two majority leaders, and is the only state to have three majority whips. that's the number two job. the commonwealth has the produced more senate party caucus chairmen than any other state. in addition, kentucky has been hope to vice presidents, presidents, and scores of prominent church massacre chairmen. they've always -- prominent
chair chairmen. the senate majority leader is nowhere to be found in the constitution or in american history. the job is not mentioned at all. it emerged slowly over time and is actually a little more than a century old. the president of the senate, the vice president, is provided for in the constitution and on paper you would think would be the formal leader of the senate. this, however, has rarely been the case in practice. part of the reason for this is the vice president is not chosen by the senate and, of course, is not a senator. if the senate does not like the vice president, it cannot on its own remove him from office. the president pro-temporary also authorized by the constitution is the alternate
constitutional presiding officer of the senate. the president pro-temporary is a senator and is chosen by the senate to fill in for the vice president during the latter's absence. in fact, during times when the vice president city has been vacant, the president pro- temporary has been called the acting vice president in the halls of congress, though such a position is not provided for in the constitution or in the u.s. code. until 1890, the senate elected a president pro-temporary to serve only when the vice president was absent from the presiding officer's chair. until mid-way through the 20th century, the vice president's main job was to provide over the senate. that was actually pretty boring because they were not even thought of as part of the administration. and so you would get elected to the number two job and you'd
find yourself changing around the senate. you couldn't say anything. so you were sort of without a portfolio. and actually the first president to really make active use of the vice president and consider the vice president a part of the executive branch wassizen hour with rich -- branch was eisenhour with richard nixon. as such, many vice presidents presiding over the senate. as a result, president pro- temporary only served sporadically and only for very short periods. is in large part for this reason, the president pro- temporary like the vice president did not develop into an independent power center in
the senate. so neither of these jobs, either vice president or the president pro-temporary, developed into a power center in the senate. not long after the senate's creation, it became clear that neither of the senate's constitutional presiding officers would exercise any real leadership inside the institution. such leadership wouldn't come from the presiding officer's chair as in the house with the speaker. as many of you have know, henry clay basically turned the speaker's job into a powerful job. they had originally thought it would be like the speaker in a british parliament who doesn't really do anything but preside. but clay was too ambitious and much too on the move to sort of sit there quietly and preside over the house. so he redefined the speaker's
role as an active leader and ultimately of the majority party's leadership. this meant the senate's leadership spraining up from a number of different forms and became increasingly tied to the two political parties as they evolved. american political parties began to form in the early 1790s. from the beginning, party members in congress would meet away from the house or senate floor to strategize about political and policy matters. these gatherings of senate party members were called caucuses. and in the republican party, we call it a conference. senate democrats still called it a caucus. doctors gam and smith have determined that around the time of the civil war, senate party caucuses began electing full- time chairmen. these early caucus chairmen
were not officially responsible for scheduling what bills would be brought to the floor or other attributes we associate with the modern senate majority leader. instead, assertive senate committee chairman assumed many of those duties. it may interest you to know that the very first democratic caucus chairman was a kentuckyen, stephenson. a former governor, he served in the senate from 1871 to 1877. three largely forgotten kentuckians that served as caucus chairmen in this premajority party leader. stephenson, beck, and blackburn. today i'll focus on blackburn. vice president addly stephenson once said of blackburn, "he was the hero of more interesting narratives than any other member of congress whoever
crossed the blue ridge mountains." blackburn's colorful personality makes it all the more unfortunate that he is largely forgotten today. little is known of his childhood other than blackburn was born in 1838 to a prominent farmer and political figure in woodford county. joseph was the younger brother of luke blackburn who provided him in politics and rose to governor of kentucky in 1879. as a young man, joseph blackburn was in frankfort at sayer institute before graduating in 1857. he set out to learn the law and was admitted to practice in 1858. in 1861, blackburn joined a confederate army as a private. by the end of the war,
blackburn had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and commanded forces in mississippi and louisiana. blackburn's unit was later written of, its opportunities were equally obnoxious to friend and foe. after the war following a brief stay in arkansas, he moved to versailles and was elected senator in 1871. upon reaching the state house, he experienced a rapid rise in kentucky political circles. several factors account for his success. as mentioned, he came from a prominent politically act i- family. that helped a -- active family. that helped a great deal. but his personal attributes played a big role as well. he was a rivetting speaker and seldom missed an opportunity to display his skill. for example, during his first race for congress in 1874,
blackburn happened to cross a public execution. noting his prominence in the community, the local sheriff welcomed him to sit next to the prisoner. vice president stephenson recalls the scene. at the near approach of the fatal hour, the sheriff with watch in hand met a sea of upturned faces, stated to the prisoner he had yet five minutes to live. and it was his privilege, if he so desired, to address the audience. the prisoner meekly replied that he did not wish to speak whereupon blackburn, stepping promptly to the front of the scaffold said, as the gentleman
does not wish to speak, if he will kindly yield me his time, i will take this occasion -- i will take this occasion to mark that i am a candidate for congress. nominated by the democratic convention! and on and on he went with his lengthy speech as the poor criminal awaited his fate. so with the exception of this hapless criminal, people enjoyed listening to blackburn. he was entertaining. by all accounts, he was spell spellbinding. one journalist wrote that the less intimately blackburn is acquainted with the subject, the more effectively he can explain it. he was just as compelling when
he was pressing the flush and talking with small groups as he was when addressing a large crowd, one paper wrote. this may have had something to do with, in the words of a reporter at the time, his loyal appreciation of the liquid products of his native state. a story circulated that on one occasion, blackburn went by train to visit a friend. when he greeted blackburn at the station, the senator was glum. how are you, joe? his friend inquired of him. blackburn replied, "i lost the best part of my baggage en route." mississippi friend inquired, "- - his friend inquired,"," did
you lose it? or was it stolen? "? neither, he replied. the cork came out, he said. when asked about this later, he denied it. he said he would never be so careless with a cork. his speaking made an impress on those he met. in the 1870s, a sioux indian chief named white cloud visited washington. he was so taken with blackburn he made him an honorary member of the sioux nation. he also gave him a sioux name and certainly an appropriate one, roaring wind of the blue bluegrass. blackburn was also generous. the reason that cartoonist clifford barryman felt the need to pen this portrait was he wanted to repay a debt to
blackburn, for whom he felt he owed his entire career. one day in 1986, senator blackburn stopped by the office of barryman's uncle in versailles. he noticed there was a remarkable likeness of his friend mounted on his desk. the senator inquired as to its origin and the uncle replied it was drawn by his nephew, clifford. blackburn immediately replied, "that boy's got talent. i'm going to take him to washington and see what i can do for him ." blackburn did just that and barryman rose to national prominence. despite his generous and outgoing nature, blackburn could be quick to anger which led to some dangerous situations. never perhaps was blackburn's combustible side more on display than when he almost got
into a duel with another lawmaker on who should receive credit for an earmark in kentucky. this colorful combination of traits helped elect blackburn to the u.s. house in 1874. during the administration of ulysses grant which was plagued by corruption, blackburn played a key role in uncovering financial wrongdoing in the department of war which led to the impeachment and ultimately resignation of the secretary of war william bell. blackburn served ten years in the house before moving to the senate in 1884 where he served until 1897 and again from 1901 to 1907. due to his success in the house and his larger than life personality, blackburn had already become a national figure by the time he reached the senate.
in fact, in 1885, he had an alaskan mountain peak named after him. 11 years later at the 1896 democratic national convention, he was among the leading candidates for his party's presidential nominations. as noted earlier, one of the reasons that parties in the senate meet in a caucus is to set policy for their fellow members and develop a strategy for achieving their goals. sometimes senators of the same party will unanimously agree on a path forward but what if all the senators in the caucus do not agree on a course of action? that, of course, never happens. believe it or not, i can attest that this does, in fact, happen from time to time. in december 1903, blackburn put forward a plan to solve this age old problem. it became known as the binding caucus rule.
he proposed that with few exceptions if 2/3 of senate democrats agreed in a formal caucus to pursue a policy, all were bound to vote that way on the senate floor. after three days of heated discussion within the democratic conclave, the rule was actually approved. blackburn's initiative would prove to be a useful tool in the arsenal of democratic leadership until the party lost its majority in 1918 and essentially allowed the rule to lapse. we'll never see that again. for whatever reason, republicans never adopted such a measure. i can tell you why. there would be no way to bind everybody. in 1906, the incumbent senate democratic caucus chairman of maryland died. that led to the question of who would take his place as chairman. by that time, blackburn was a short timer, defeated in the
senate after engaging in an ill advised political battle with kentucky's governor. his colleagues elected him to serve as caucus chairman to serve his term. blackburn's elevation to democratic caucus chairman reflects an important marker in the evolution of caucus chairman to that of former formal senate floor leader. this was because blackburn became the first caucus chairman of either party to be /
structure and were slower to anoint their caucus chairman with leadership responsibilities. while blackburn was seen as the leader of senate democrats, he was not considered the majority leader for the simple fact his party was not in the majority. following blackburn's senate career and his brief term as caucus chairman, he remained active in public life. this included service as governor of the panama canal zone and as the member -- as a member of the lincoln memorial commission. as he got older, blackburn gang to such from heart problems and in -- began to suffer from heart problems and in 1918, he died of a heart attack. so if he wasn't the first
majority leader, who was the first? there's no universal agreement to that question. democrat john worth kern of indiana is often credited as the first majority leader. his tenure is certainly important. he was elected in 1913 to head senate democrats, in large part, because he shared governor wilson's progressive views and was thought capable of securing enactment of his legislative agenda. he was also the inheritor of the enhanced prestige and responsibilities enjoyed by the democratic caucus chairman who, by that time, had come to be seen as their party's leaders. until this time, the term majority leader had almost never been used on the senate floor and only once before in
relation to a specific senate. -- senator. beginning in 1914, they would both use the expression "majority leader" to refer to kern as the leader on the senate floor. this fairly sudden emergens of the use of the term majority leader on the senate floor during kern's tenure would seem to reflect that the position by you know involved from being largely a party position into a formal institutional role. by the mid-1920s and early 1930s, the positions we know as senate majority leaders began to assume a recognizable form. but the majority and minority leaders still held little formal institutional power.
the leaders' authority, such as it was, was based on recent custom, not on a rule or formal procedure. my friends, that all changed during alben barkley's tenure. most of you, i suspect, are familiar with many of the details of barkley's life. since i've covered much of that in an earlier speech, i'll provide just a grief overview on his life but focus on an overlook but very important event from early in his tenure asthma jarty leader. alben barkley was born literally, literally, in a log cabin on his father's tobacco farm in 1977 in kentucky. young alben had a hard upbringing that instilled in him the importance of hard work. although he never graduated from high school, barkley
studied at the marvin college in clinton down near the mississippi river. it was during this time that barkley witnessed blackburn on the campaign trail. this left an impression on barkley when barryman showed barkley this portrait. following marvin college and a study of law, barkley set up a law practice in paduka but soon discovered his true passion was politics. barkley was a true politician, in part, because he was a terrific stunt speaker and first rate story teller. many recall senator barkley saying, a good story is like fine, kentucky bourbon. it improves with age and if you don't use too much of it, it'll never hurt anyone.
in 1905, the amiable 27-year- old secured election as county attorney. not one to waste time, within seven years he was a congressman. re-elected six times to the house, he moved to the senate in 1927. in 1932, barkley was returned to the senate and next year was chosen assistant majority leader, what we now call whip serving under senate majority leader joe robinson of arkansas. in this role, barkley proved to be a dedicated proponent of franklin d. roosevelt's new agenda and was a loyal lieutenant of robinson. when the 75th congress began in 1937, the democrats -- listen to this -- had a whopping 76 seats. there were 96 senators at the time. hawaii and alaska were not yet admitted. they had 76 out of 96.
in fact, if you've ever seen a picture of the u.s. senate floor, there's an aisle down the middle and the democrats sit on one side and republicans sit on the other. there were so many democrats they couldn't get them all on that side of the room. so they moved a bunch of them over on the republican side in the back of the room and they called it the cherokee strip because they said they were off the reservation. about half the caucus supported roosevelt's new deal policy while the other half frequently undermine them. the divisions within the caucus became fully exposed in 1937 when f.d.r.'s full efforts failed to add more liberal judges. that split the democratic caucus down the middle. that year, due in large part to
the strain trying to manage this controversial court packing legislation, majority leader joe robinson died of a heart attack. the leader's untimely death cleared the way for barkley to run for the position. so here's what happened. all the senators got on a train to go to little rock for the funeral. and they politicked all the way down. and they politicked all the way back. and when they got back, they took a vote. and the race was between alben barkley, who was thought of as the roosevelt guy, and pat robinson from mississippi who was the more conservative guy. and when they counted the votes, barkley won by one vote. one vote. roosevelt had made it kind of
clear who he was for. but it produced kind of a mixed reaction because there were a lot of people in that caucus that thought the president shouldn't dictate who the leader of the senate ought to be. so one week after they went down to the funeral, came back, they had been politicking the whole time. politics makes a vacuum. those in my line of work, if you want to see active politicking going on, go to a funeral. because there will always be maneuvering going on who will be the successor. they voted -- they dropped their ballots into a panama hat owned by senator carter glass of virginia. the senate democrats were trying to ensure the secret ballot by using a glass hat. as i said, barkley won the election by a single vote but
there was unease about it because a lot of people resented the fact that roosevelt got involved in the election. and so it made it somewhat difficult for barkley to get started. that's because a lot of members of the democratic caucus just didn't feel that he had enough independence. too many of them viewed him as f.d.r.'s man and not the senate man. and that division continued for a number of years. so he did get off to a rocky start. in just a few weeks into the job, he was trying to get the senate ready to conclude its legislative session. he lined up several bills he wanted to see passed and he wanted a senator to push in consideration to pass each measure. to ensure his plan was followed, he gave vice
president john nance garner -- by the way, this was an example of a man totally bored. he was the speaker of the house. and roosevelt made him vice president. so for almost 8 years, he had nothing to do almost. you may recall the comment garner made about the vice president. he said it wasn't worth the picture of warm spit. but he and barkley were close. and so to ensure barkley's plan was carried out, he and garner talked about which senators to recognize and the order in which they should be recognized on the floor to speak. the arrangement reflected the close close relationship between garner and barkley. one of the senators that barkley had slated to speak was slow to stand up and request
recognition from vice president garner. when the senator failed to respond, up popped new york democratic senator robert wagner of new york which added antilynching legislation that, in that era, was total in apatha to the southern senate. for a day, he lost control of the senate's agenda and was utterly humiliated. leaving nothing to chance the next two days, barkley worked out a new arrangement where barkley would claim the four and yield allies to move leadership favored legislation. this process of barkley farming out his recognition to others to speak prevented other slipups as it happened with
senator wagner but it ruffled feathers with other lawmakers. one senator demanded to know why the vice president was allowing barkley to not speak. vice president garner as presiding officer explained he was recognizing barn before all other senators -- barkley before all other senators because he was the majority leader much as he'd recognize the minority leader before all other senators but barclay. garner's response did not fully answer the senator's question but it did formally establish an important precedent. the right of first recognition, my friends, is the single most important prerogative of the majority leader. and all of that comes from this president that garner and barclay set -- precedent that
garner and barkley set. what does this mean? it means the majority leader sets the agenda. and that's the single biggest difference between being the majority leader and being a minority leader. majority leader gets to set the agenda. doesn't guarantee the outcome. but gets to set the agenda. and that important precedent which is the single biggest power the majority leader has came from this incident in 1937 and has been honored continuously since then. and just to point out the significance of that, the decision not to do something sometimes becomes as an important decision to do something. and to give you a recent example, probably r@k#hñf3the m consequential decision i've made as majority leader is the decision not to do something. and that was not to fill the
supreme court vacancy created by the death of scalia in the middle of the presidential election. so my point is here: the ultimate power of the majority leader is the right of first recognition which leads to the ability to schedule but which certainly does not guarantee the outcome. while majority leaders have been recognized to speak before all of the senators as a matter of practice starting in the early 1920s, vice president garner's policy announce was was the first articulation of the custom. formalization of this somewhat recent practice clearly bolstered the office. garner's ruling had a greater impact, however, on minority leaders. unlike majority leaders, minority leaders seem to not gain the floor. but in that same ruling, he said the right of second recognition went to the minority leader.
first recognition of majority leader. second recognition to the minority leader. that greatly enhanced the power of the minority. and for those of you who are senate junk ies, you know that is rarely important in the senate unless you're a tiny minority like the republicans in the '30s. so you may be asking yourself, why does it matter the senate majority leader or minority leader can speak before all other senators? well, it matters a lot because being recognized first permits exactly what i've been talking about. the majority leader to determine what the business of the senate will be. forward time is the coin of the realm in the senate. for 240 years, you've heard, read about or heard because it continues, the house
complaining about the senate. we pass these bills. they go to the senate. nothing happens. like dropping into a black hole. in fact, i'm reminded of a story when the democrats were in the majority in the house and senate. i think tom foley was the speaker at the time. he was asked about one of his young members. who is the opposition, mlk? well, that's the republicans -- mr. speaker? well, that's the republicans. now, the enemy is the senate. now harking back to what i told you washington predicted. the senate is not a place where things are done quickly. and for a whole lot of institutional reasons, it is a place where a lot of things don't happen. but remember the founding fathers were not interested in efficiency. that was not high on their list. they were interested in dividing the power. .
justice scalia said every ten- horned dictator in the world had a bill of rights but what made america different was the separation of powers. not just the legislative and judiciary, deciding what they could do what they did but the differences between the two bodies in the legislature. so the theme was they wanted to divide the power and make it hard to act. so floor time is the coin of the realm in the senate. as you've seen from recent experiences in the senate, the minority can make me take two days to confirm the secretary of something. two days to confirm assistant sector of something. so everybody is always -- secretary of something. so everybody is always competing. my sleeve is always pulled on like this. can you take up this bill? can you take up this nomination?
everybody's trying to get in the que -- qeue and dolling out floor time is the biggest decision i make every week. how will we spend our time? as some of you notice, i provide juror tuesday circuit judges. when we get a circuit judge, we take him up and confirm him. but if i have to make a choice between a circuit judge and judge of interior, it's a no- brainer kind of. coin of the realm in the senate is floor time because every senator can make it extremely difficult for any of the rest of us. the senate mostly operates on unanimous consent and exhaustion. and unanimous consent means exactly what it says. if any one of the 100 of us says, i object, you can't do what you're trying to get consent to do in an expedited
period of time. so first recognition becomes extremely, extremely important. the barkley-garner precedent of 1937 is an absolutely key moment, key moment in the evolution of the united states senate. time does not permit a review of all of barkley's sub kentuckian went career but most of you are doctor subsequent career but most are familiar with it. he recovered from his rocky start, became a highly accomplished majority leader and ultimately truman's vice president. the position of senate party leader has evolved following barkley's long tenure. just mention some of the names you're familiar with. robert taft, lynn don johnson,
robert byrd, and bob dole among others, raised the public profile and prestige of the position and underscored the importance of the garner- barkley precedent. indeed the position continues to evolve to this very day. the contemporary positions of senate majority and minority leaders have come a long way from the position of party caucus chairman. those party posts emerged in term from the caucus system which had been created to deal with the reality of partisan affiliation. so in sum, my friends, the creation and enhancement of the majority and minority lead positions over the past century reflect an institution evolving to meet the needs of the time. it's difficult not to agree
with dr. richard baker who wrote of the emergens of the formal position of senate floor leader that it represents the most significant institutional development in the senate's history. kentuckians have played an important role in this institutional development, including the two colorful senators i have discussed today. i believe alben barkley would still hold the office he once held, although it's changed a fair amount since his tenure. one suspects, however, that the roaring wind of the bluegrass, joseph blackburn, might recognize the position not at all. thank you very much. [applause]
we've got about five minutes here. i'll see if there are any questions. yeah? >> there's an important kentuckian you haven't mentioned which is yourself. what do you think your great contribution to the role of majority leader has been? >> huh. you mean on an issue or some kind of process? >> either way. >> well, i think -- >> from what you discussed, what have been your accomplishments? >> first of all, there are not many things you can do all by yourself. i mean, the legislative process is a collaborative process. but the ability to decide what you're going to do or not do is something that no one else in the body can do.
and so in looking back at my career, i think the most consequential decision i've ever made was the decision not to fill the scalia vacancy in the middle of the presidential election. e you know, most of what we do won't surprise you. i was pretty proud of the comprehensive tax bill that we passed. but we always mess with the tax code. the comprehensive tax code we did 30 years lasted four years before we started messing with it again. so if you look around and see what are the things you can have an impact on that last a while? the singlemost important thing i think the senate and president together are involved in is the confirmation of judges because in all
likelihood they'll be there a while. so you have a long-term impact. so that's been where i put my emphasis as majority leader. when i was the majority leader under president obama, my approach was, we have some big differences but let's look for the things we can agree on and do those. comprehensive addiction and recovery act. 21st century cures bill. five-year highway bill, things that we could reach a consensus on to move forward. but i would clearly cite the supreme court decision, in my career, is the most consequential decision i've made. yes, sir? >> does the term the position of majority leader kind of a term that expires or not? >> no. you're elected every two years. i've been in this job 11 years. so, yeah.
we elect leadership in the beginning of every congress. and typically the election is in november after the election. the rest of our leadership positions are term limited. each are for two years. but the other leadership positions like the majority whip or the conference chairman or the policy chairman can serve three terms and then they're term limited out. the democrats don't have term limits either for either of the leadership positions or committee chairman. we also have term limits for committee chairman. so the leader is the only exception to that. >> what are some of the ways you've used history when it comes to your decision making on a day-to-day basis. >> i'm sorry, i didn't hear the first part. >> i said, you obviously have a great passion for history. so what are some of the ways
that you've history when it comes to your decision making on a day-to-day basis? >> that's a good question! i don't just sit there by myself and make decisions. there's a process. i think to do this job that we're talking about well you need to be a good listener. and fortunately the way we operate on the republican side in the senate, we have flee -- three lunches every week, tuesday, wednesday, and thursday, that almost everyone comes to. so the ability to listen and absorb information and make arguments is there for me every week because i have a lot of interaction. i don't know how they do it on the house side. they have majority i guess with 240 members. so what tends to happen in a big body like that is people break up into caucuses. you've heard of the freedom caucus. you've heard of the tuesday group. you have in the democratic
party the hispanic caucus, the black caucus. i think because of the large numbers of people, folks tend to second recognition identity in various groups. i don't have to deal with that. there aren't that many of us. and we're all together three days a week every week. that gives me an opportunity to sell if i'm selling, to listen which i always try to do to see if there's a possibility to reach some consensus. that's how i operate. i do a lot of listening. i try to listen before i talk. i find you learn a lot that way. but once i reach a position, i try to sell it. then number two is the whip. what the whip does is once we've made a decision to go forward -- and sometimes we don't make a decision to go forward until we see the whip count. that's john cornen from texas. what he does -- if we have a
proposition, we want to see if people are for it. i don't want to call up a measure and get creamed. it's embarrassing. so you want to try to get a handle on whether you want to succeed or not. so we're whipping frequently one or two things every week to try to give me an opportunity to make an informed decision about how i'll spend floor time based on whether or not i have a chance of success. yeah? >> with your tenure in the senate, both sides of the aisle, are there some senators you really like and some you don't? would you care to share some of those feelings? >> well, you know .... i mean, here's the situation. all of a sudden you find yourself the leader of a bunch of class president types.
they all have sharp elbows, pretty healthy egoes and they're pretty smart or they wouldn't have made it that far. so it's an interesting leadership challenge. i'm sure there are more than one of them who think they can do my job better than i do every day. so there aren't many sticks. i just learned a long time ago, if you try to punish somebody over some vote they cast that you didn't like, you'll pay for it multiple times in the future. so i always operate that the most important vote is the next vote. so if you lose somebody, you just need to choke it down and get over it because any kind of punitive action you can take, you'll pay for it two or three times by enhanced animosity. so all this talk you hear about
taking about committeeships and all that -- that's -- committee chairmanships and all that -- that's nonsense! first of all, i don't have the authority and if i did, i wouldn't do it! because there's a constant flow of controversy and issues coming up. and you know, if you burn all your bridges, first you won't succeed on the next. so i spend a lot of time listening, counting and looking at vote counts, and trying to reach a consensus about what to do or close to a consensus. and it's a fascinating experience. i've enjoyed every minute of it. and not every day has been wonderful. but it's been a fascinating experience. i'll take one more if there is one. yeah? >> i have a question. i understand that henry henry clay used to bring a barrel of
boar bun bo -- bourbon to every term. i think up in cincinnati, used to have a card game that went on with bipartisan and he'd bring folks together to talk about different issues. is that an issue? >> it was said that senator dirckson said it was always 5:00 p.m. in his office. i don't know how sober those guys were, but with all due respect to the kentucky bourbon industry, i don't have any members that drink lunch anymore and everybody is pretty sober and pretty responsible. on the issue that you're talking about, i do think two things did have an impact. ; air-conditioning, believe it or not.
the busiest times of the congress in the 19th century were between november and march. they would even be there during the holidays. why? as an agricultural society, everybody had part time jobs and had to get the crops in later in the year and stay long enough to harvest them. so air-conditioning changed a lot. air travel changed a lot. i have members from places like idaho and montana who go home every weekend. i don't think that's necessarily bad. all the time i've been in the senate, i've been home probably 90% of the weekends not because i felt i had to but because i wanted to. i have a whole different life here, different friends than i have up there. so i don't think lack of cleg equality is a problem --
collegiality is a problem. i think part of the problem is the inevitable political debates that we've always had in this country are just so much more widely known now. i come up to young people and say, oh, my gosh, y'all hate each other. and i confidently say, none of us have ever said anything as bad of each other as jefferson and adams said of each other or jefferson and hamilton about each other. we haven't had a -- we had a. [singing] al accident where one senator almost beat another with a cane which happened in the 1850s. we've had robust debates for all of history. what's different? 24-hour television, the internet, constant pounding of information. and they must teach them in journalism school that only controversy sells. so when we have a difference of opinion, it's a big headline.
if we all come together and pass a 21st century cures bill, nobody notices. so there aren't, in my -- there isn't, in my view, a lack of colle giality. when i was a young man, there were conservative democrats and liberal republicans. that's largely not the case today. there's been kind of a realignment. i don't think that's all that bad. at least the label tells you something. you know, if you're voting for a republican, it's probably somebody who's more conservative than the democrat. and i don't think that necessarily prevents us from coming together. and there are a lot of things we agree on. but we do have big differences. in my opinion, the biggest difference is just how much government do you want to have? you know? with our democratic friends, i think almost every problem they
view is something the government should be able to do about. usually with some expenditure of money, we look at it differently. because of the senate, if you get a solution, it's generally in the political center because neither side is able to completely dominate the debate. and i tend to take the long view that, boy, those founding fathers were geniuses. absolute geniuses. they understood human nature so well. they understood how to divide the power and keep this country together all these men years. so i'm optimistic about the future and i hope you enjoyed this discussion of the past. thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
c-span takes you to tyler, texas, with the help of our cable partners, we'll explore tyler's literary scene and history. saturday at 6:00 p.m. eastern. albert durkin talks about his book on the. >> everything he did in the senate is in a problem solving mode. how we fix this particular thing for texans.
how do we make this better? so he did that without ideology getting in the way. he did that without partisanship in the way. that made him, well, greatly loved in austin. he was hands down, both parties, someone you wanted to work with. we visit with bobby evans , the father of the adopt a highway program. >> 1984, i know we took a trip to south dakota to the highway meeting. i had to give a speech to a civic club. and i had a portion of that speech that i challenge you to adopt a highway to get rid of litter. and of course that was a speech. i didn't expect them to do anything. but the more i thought about that, you know, that may be
something we can do. >> then we'll visit the smith county historical society to hear about the history of race at robert e. lee high school. >> the school board, you know, all white decided to name this school robert e. lee high school. which, you know, the white community would say this is just to honor our past and our history. tyler has a rich history connected with the confederacy. but in the black community, this was very much seen as, you know, a thumb in their eye and a gesture in defiance. >> watch c-span's city tour of tyler, texas, saturday at noon eastern on c-span 2. working with our cable affiliates as we explore america. c-span, where history
unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress. the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c., and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. next on "american history tv," a briefing for members of congress and their staffs on the history of the higher education act of 1965 signed by president lindon johnson which offered federal money to colleges and universities and financial assistance to students. histories trace the origins of the act beginning with the funding research. they also explore congressional support for the measure, changes, and reauthorizations and the long-term impact of the
federal government's involvement in higher learning. the national history center hosted this hour-long event. good morning! and welcome to the congressional briefing on the higher education act. i'm anita jones. i'm the executive director of the american historical association. and it's the american historical association through its national history center that is sponsoring this event. this is an effort simply to provide historical background on important issues that are coming before the congress. it is not an effort to lobby anyone to take a position on any side of a particular issue. but we think it's important to know the historical context. that's what we're